Tag Archives: Prayer

The Smell That God Loves

Yeast free healthy homemade breadPerhaps you’ve heard before that if you want to sell your house, when someone is coming for a showing, you should have fresh bread baking in the oven. If the scent of delightfulness is strong enough, people will pay full price without a counter offer. Well, okay, I doubt that is really true, but I’ll bet that a good smell wafting through the house does make people more favorable to some sort of purchase. Smells have a powerful effect on us. And here’s the wonderful thing: Scripture says that God can smell our prayers. And it’s like homemade bread baking in the oven to Him.

Okay, not homemade bread, but incense; however, since incense isn’t such a common thing in our culture (at least in my neck of the woods), I prefer to think about homemade bread, or maybe a lovely perfume on the wife of my youth. Whatever you want to compare it to, God apparently likes the smell of our prayers…

And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. Revelation 5:8 (ESV)

And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne, and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel. Revelation 8:3-4 (ESV)

Golden bowls full of wonderful smells – that is how our Heavenly Father thinks of our prayers. But why does He delight so much when we seek Him? Well, for one, God delights to be trusted in. But an even greater reason may be that He just plain likes being with you.

Pastor R.T. Kendall (successor to D. Martyn Lloyd Jones at Westminster Chapel in London) relates the story he heard from an evangelist named J. John. The evangelist was in the company of a woman named Sister Theresa (not the famous one) noted for giving a prophetic word and so, he asked her for one. She took some time but came back with a long list of very accurate items regarding him and his ministry. But the last thing she said changed his life:

“God likes your company and asks that you give Him two hours of your time every day.”

God likes your company. Indeed, He not only loves you. He also likes you. Now, by the way, I don’t think you need a prophetic word to come to an understanding of this, but apparently, the word from Sister Theresa helped the evangelist…as R.T. Kendall relates:

“J. John took her seriously, and I can tell you—he has told me more than once—he was never to be the same again. I personally think it explains, at least in part, why J. John is one of the greatest evangelists today, not just in Britain but also throughout the world.”

“What does prayer do for God? For one thing, He likes your company. I cannot imagine a greater motivation to pray than that God enjoys having me in His presence. He enjoys my company. He delights in listening to me! He doesn’t get bored with my repeated requests. He doesn’t moralize me if I get it wrong in what I ask for. He doesn’t laugh at me if I put out silly, even impertinent, requests. He never makes me feel stupid. There is no rejection, only total acceptance.”

Amen, and amen. So…start the heavenly oven, will you? Your Heavenly Father waits to delight in the smells you will send His way.

For Monday, December 14th: Revelation 9

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Posted by on December 11, 2015 in Uncategorized


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How To Become A Lukewarm Christian

“I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” Revelation 3:15-16 (ESV)

Steamy water cools off. Icy water warms up. Likewise, it is the natural tendency of men and women who are serious for Christ…to become lukewarm. So, in actuality, you don’t need to do anything to become lukewarm; nevertheless, here are some things you can do to get there faster…

  • Pray very little. If someone asks about your prayer life, tell them you pray “on the run.” In other words, be careful not to follow the practice of the Lord Jesus who regularly set aside special time for prayer, often going away from the crowds to be with His Father (Luke 5:16; Luke 9:28; Mark 1:35).
  • Avoid the Bible. Explain to people that you’re not a reader. But you do listen to sermons…occasionally, and on that note…
  • Be irregular in your church attendance. A couple was asked by their children why the family didn’t go to church more. “That’s not how we do it in our family,” Mom and Dad replied, as if moderation in church attendance was a principle to be proud of. Hmmm. Well, here’s a rule of thumb – God is sovereign, and while there is nothing we can do to absolutely guarantee that our kids will follow Christ, we can do a lot to make them not follow Him. One of the best ways to do this is to communicate that Christ is of mediocre importance. Kids who grow up assuming that church is a take-it-or-leave-it proposition…will often leave it.
  • Store up treasure on earth. Not in the other place. Some years ago I heard of a family that gave up tithing “because our kids need designer clothes to keep up with the Joneses at school”. The saying is true, however, that everyone tithes, but not everyone tithes to the One True God. Many pay tithes to idols. And anyway, that widow with the two mites was irresponsible (Luke 21:1-4). And while we’re at it…
  • Ignore the poor. Social Justice is for liberals. You wouldn’t want to be one of those. Best to help your own family and keep it to that.
  • Keep your mouth shut about Jesus at work and in the neighborhood. You don’t want people to think that you’re one of those fanatics who believes that eternity is actually on the line. Leave evangelism to the evangelists. Besides, it’s not your gift.
  • Forget the gospel. Get annoyed at all those “gospel-centered” Christians, and tell them that you’ve got the cross thing figured out and want to get to the deeper stuff. This is the best way to get lukewarm. For none of us can be hot or cold enough (yes, including those who write snarky blogs). You see, everyone needs Jesus. And all of us are in danger – everyday – of forgetting it.

For Monday, December 7th: Revelation 4

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Posted by on December 4, 2015 in Uncategorized


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Sober Up…So That You Can Pray

The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. 1 Peter 4:7 (ESV)

One of the reasons that people don’t pray well is that they live in a cloud. They may be praying, but they are not praying soberly.

Certain situations come upon us in life, and they make us sober up. You know where I’ve seen this a number of times?  In marriage counseling. Mostly it’s men. Through years of pastoral ministry, I’ve seen guys come to me and they say, “Pastor, I can’t believe it, my wife wants a divorce.  Tell her not to divorce me.”

And then I’ll say, “Well, tell me the story.”  And when the man begins to do that, almost invariably, he begins to allude to the fact that he has not treated his wife very well through the years. He has neglected her through working too much or spending the evenings with his buddies, or he has treated her like a hired girl, or just taken her for granted, or whatever.  And sometimes it goes on for 10, 20, 30 years.

And you know what happens – one day, she comes and says, “I want out.  I’m divorcing you.” Now, she may or may not have a biblical reason, but one thing is sure – she is just too tired to take it anymore. And the moment she says that, do you know what happens?  I’ll tell you what happens…He sobers up. Now you get it, right? He wasn’t necessarily drunk.  He was just a fool living in a cloud…and now he’s awake. Now, he looks at this wonderful woman who has put up with him through the years, and he snaps to attention.  It’s like he was dreaming and now he wakes up.

Aside from coming for a visit to see me, a man in this situation will begin to act quite differently…if she gives him a chance.  He will begin to realize what he had, and his life will change.  He will sober up.  And if that man is a true Christian, I’ll tell you what else he will begin to do…he will begin to pray.  He probably hasn’t given very much time to praying about his marriage in the past, but now that he’s sobered up, he starts to pray.  And he will pray as if everything depends upon his prayers.

Now listen to what Peter is saying:  Wake up!  The end of all things is at hand.  It’s smelling salts for an unconscious man.  It’s a cold slap across the face. The end is near. Therefore be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the sake of your prayers.

This is the kind of spirit we have to have if we want to pray well.  You see, a lot of people pray; not many people pray as if their life depends on it, as if their children depend on their prayers, as if their marriage depends on their prayers, as if their church depends on their prayers.  Many people pray, but I doubt that most of them pray…soberly.  To be sober in prayer is to understand what is at stake, and when you understand that, you get blood earnest.  And earnestness in prayer is one of the great keys to prayer.

“The Devil is aware that one hour of close fellowship, of hearty converse with God in prayer, is able to pull down what he hath been contriving and building many a year.” – John Flavel

“If I had only prayed more…”  “Oh, that I had prayed a hundred-fold more!” – Dr. Andrew A. Bonar

For Monday, November 16th: 1 Peter 5

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Posted by on November 13, 2015 in Uncategorized


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What To Remember When You Walk Through Suffering

There are people who say that God never wants His children to suffer, that He only wants “blessing” for us and that suffering is never His instrument for this blessing. This, however, is a lie and if you believe it, you will spend much of your life in despair.

You see, suffering is not the opposite of blessing. The Apostle Peter writes…

But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled.  1 Peter 3:13, 14 (ESV)

My junior year in college was literally the worst year of my life. By the end of fall semester that year I was put on academic probation, and it felt like everything was falling apart…and I was a Christian. I had struggled with OCD and panic attacks, and my mom and dad didn’t know what to do. They wanted to help but had no real idea how to do so.

But God was doing a work in my life – I went into that year a proud young man.  And by the end of the year, like Nebuchadnezzar after his insanity, I was deeply humbled, a different person, no longer thinking so highly of myself.  And even more than that, God was doing something in my father’s life.  I had been praying for his salvation since I had come to Christ 3 or 4 years before, and toward the end of my junior year, my dad, age 63, became a Christian. His words as I remember: “Son, I told you if I ever did this you would be the first to know, and today I asked Jesus to be the Lord of my life.”

Later I asked him what led him to finally bow his knee to the Lord. And he said, at least partly in reference to what had been going on with me: “I just didn’t have the answers.”

In other words, hindsight has shown me that God was doing glorious things through the pain I was experiencing.  He was making me more like Jesus, and he was showing Don Knowlton that he needed Christ.  My dad is in heaven today at least partly because of the painful trial I went through that year.

The Lord works suffering out for our good, even if we bring it on ourselves. Romans 8:28 is our rock in this – God causes all things to work together for good to those who are called according to His purpose.  Now Peter is going to go on to say, far better that you suffer for doing right than that you suffer for doing wrong, but the point is this:  in God’s economy, suffering is often the instrument of blessing, not the opposite.

If you don’t understand this, whenever you suffer you will be in despair and unable to rejoice like the Biblical writers tell us to – because you won’t be able to connect the suffering with the often unknown good that God is doing. And He is always doing good for those He loves, even through suffering.

For Friday, November 13th: 1 Peter 4


Posted by on November 12, 2015 in Uncategorized


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The Prayer of Faith

And Jesus answered them, “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen. Matthew 21:21 (ESV)

There are a few places in the Bible where God promises great things will happen if we will only have “mountain moving faith,” or if we “believe that we have received it” (Mark 11:24). It’s important that we get our understanding of this right, because a wrong interpretation will cause us problems.

For instance, I read one writer who said that, “Faith takes the handcuffs off God.” Nice idea – it just doesn’t strike me as an accurate picture of the power and character of God. The true God wears no handcuffs, though He may carry them around to place on the wrists of lawbreakers.

So, is answered prayer dependent on you and me working up faith to such a degree that God answers our prayers? Is it ultimately up to us?

James seems to echo this thinking…

Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.  James 5:14-15 (ESV)

Again, here we read about a particular kind of prayer – a prayer of faith. What is this prayer, and how do we get it?

Martyn Lloyd Jones speaks to it…

People have often taken those texts and have tried to work themselves up into a kind of certainty – “When you pray, believe you have received it” – and have tried to persuade themselves that this is true. But then the prayer is not answered or at any rate not answered in the way that they asked or expected, and they are cast down and begin to doubt God and his promises. But all that is due to a misunderstanding of the meaning of this “prayer of faith.” It seems to me that the only adequate explanation of these passages is that they are a typical example and illustration of praying in the Spirit. Praying in the Spirit is a prayer that is given to us by the Holy Spirit himself, created within us by Him, and as he does this he gives us an absolute certainly with respect to it.

Martyn Lloyd Jones, Living Water, Studies in John 4

That rings true, doesn’t it? When we read these texts, “Believe that you have received it…” we falsely tend to think that we need to scrunch up our faces and get on our knees and convince ourselves that we believe by saying over and over again, “I believe, I believe, I believe…” But that can’t be right.

Instead this kind of faith is a gift, and we are right to ask for the gift, and not feel like we have to manufacture it ourselves. But there is a balance to this, as Lloyd Jones also points out – we should not “just sit down until we are moved…That is to misunderstand the work of the Spirit because we are commanded to pray.” Amen. And in our praying itself, we show whether or not we have faith to begin with.

So there is a special gift of God for certain prayers, and there is just simple obedience, exercising the faith we do have, and asking God to do what only He can do.

For Tuesday, November 10th: 1 Peter 1



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Posted by on November 9, 2015 in Uncategorized


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Why God Answers Our Prayers

There is really only one reason that God answers our prayers. Christians are easily confused about this.

Many believers think that if they have a good day, if they treat their co-workers well, if they don’t kick the dog, and if they for the most part obey God, then they can pray. The better they are, therefore, the more their prayers will be answered. But it never works this way. Never.

This thinking is commonplace: Jesus said that the Gentiles thought this way…

And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Matthew 6:7 (ESV)

Maybe it wasn’t their many good deeds, but it was their many words. No matter, it’s the same thing. They thought they would be heard because they talked a lot; we think we will be heard because we do a lot. We may be saved by grace, but we get our prayers answered through works. However, the Lord teaches that there is only one reason that God answers our prayers, and that reason is the name we call God: Father.

That’s how Jesus taught his disciples to pray:

“Pray then like this: ‘Our Father in heaven…'” Matthew 6:9 (ESV)

You parents, what would you think if your child thought he needed to do a number of chores to get a hug and a kiss from you? That would be awful. Terrible. The truth is that if you are normal, you want to give hugs, kisses and even stuff to your kids. It seems natural to me that we are tempted to spoil our kids. We are wise to hold back on this, of course, but it seems like the desire to bless them is the mark of a healthy parent-child relationship:

If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! Matthew 7:11 (ESV)

And so we see this same dynamic happening in John 16. Here Jesus is explaining that the key to having our prayers answered is knowing God as Father, and the only way we can know God in this way…is through His Son:

Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. John 16:23-24 (ESV)

We have no hope of salvation apart from Christ. We have no hope of answered prayers apart from Him either, but in Him, apparently…whatever we ask, our Father will give it to us.

For Tuesday, October 27th: John 17


Posted by on October 26, 2015 in Uncategorized


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Praying When I “Cherish Iniquity In My Heart”

How many Christians have been kept from prayer by this intimidating word in the Psalms?…

If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened. Psalm 66:18 (ESV)

Answer: a lot. I’ll bet many Christians have been kept from prayer because of their understanding of this warning, but consider this insight from Tim Keller in his message on Hebrews 7:

“It says, for example, in Psalm 66, ‘If I cherish iniquity in my heart, he will not hear me.’ Good night! Then why should he hear anybody? We’re all cherishing iniquity in our hearts, so that’s the end of that.”

The enemy of our souls takes Psalm 66 and twisting it, fools us into believing we need a perfect conscience – yes, even a guiltless life – in order to pray.

And our prayer life dies.

But what if when I came to pray, God wasn’t looking at what I was cherishing in my heart, but at what Jesus was cherishing in His heart? That is, what if He really represented me as my advocate before the Father, and what if He did this, not just on judgment day, but on every day, at every moment? Wouldn’t that be glorious?

Well, it’s true:

Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. Hebrews 7:25 (ESV)

Do you long to draw near to God? Here’s good news: Jesus is your advocate before the Father, and He is always interceding for you. And this is powerful – just knowing that the Father is listening because Jesus is interceding for you – well, it almost makes you want to stop cherishing sin in your heart, doesn’t it?

So let me close by paraphrasing the immortal words of Pete Townshend of The Who…

Get on your knees and pray. And don’t be fooled again.

For tomorrow, Friday, September 25th: Hebrews 8

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Posted by on September 24, 2015 in Uncategorized


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Prayerless Praying: Why God Doesn’t Answer Our “Prayers”

Have you ever been guilty of prayerless praying? I don’t know about you, but sometimes I find myself “praying” through a prayer list, and yet hardly paying attention to what I am saying. I’m sure it doesn’t honor the Lord, and I have a strong sense that I am wasting my time. And then I read this verse, and my suspicions are confirmed by the opposite example of the Lord Jesus:

In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Hebrews 5:7 (ESV)

The context seems to be Jesus praying as our ultimate High Priest from the cross, and He is calling out with “loud cries and tears.” So I find it encouraging that when Jesus prayed, He PRAYED. He meant for His prayers to be heard by His Father, and He prayed as if He meant it. As pastor and author, Dr. Joel Beeke puts it, “in His praying…He prayed.”

Beeke said, “Our greatest problem is not that we don’t pray. It is that we seldom pray in our prayers. Truly, prayerfully, pray. Private, prayerful, praying – that’s what we need…There is nothing so essential, and so neglected as private, prayerful, praying.”

Beeke first heard the phrase “prayerful praying from his father”, and there is apparently a textual variant in James 5:17 which says that Elijah “prayed in his praying.”

Isaiah seemed to understand this issue when he wrote:

There is no one who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities. (Isa 64:7 ESV)

This is what we are called to do – to rouse ourselves to take hold of God. And I need to do it, oh how I need to do it. I can be so lethargic in my praying, but I need to wake myself up and remind myself that there is a all-loving, Almighty God hearing my words, and He wants me to pray as if He is listening.

It is the way that God the Son prayed, and as a result, God the Father answered, and He will answer us as well.

If you’ve got some time, click on this link and listen to Joel Beeke tell all about the problem and solution to prayerless praying:


For tomorrow, Wednesday, September 23rd: Hebrews 6


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Posted by on September 22, 2015 in Uncategorized


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War Room (review)

images226QDKI5Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:16 (ESV)

My sweetie and I rushed up to Oshkosh this weekend after the Saturday evening service to see the latest offering from the writing, producing and directing team of Alex and Stephen Kendrick, War Room.

Directed by brother Alex (of Courageous and Fireproof fame), War Room tells the story of a suburban family torn apart by the husband Tony’s workaholic tendencies and, well…other issues. Wife Elizabeth is a real estate agent, a woman whose world is forever changed when she agrees to list the home of an elderly woman named Miss Clara. In the first meeting, Clara senses the younger woman’s domestic struggles, and as Elizabeth is leaving, she innocently asks about Clara’s favorite room in the house. Clara invites her to come again for coffee the next day, informing her that she will reveal this particular room at that time.

Of course, Miss Clara’s favorite room turns out to be a simple closet, indeed, a prayer closet, a.k.a., her “war room”. And thus begins Elizabeth’s glorious journey toward having a war room of her own.

I was thoroughly entertained, and more importantly challenged, as was Diane. And not surprisingly, we found ourselves praying a good bit of the way home. So, we heartily recommend it. And for you readers in my local area, it is still showing this week in Oshkosh. May I suggest the Tuesday evening (movie night in Wisconsin!) 7:40 p.m. show where you will find free popcorn and $5 movies.

Prayer is a fascinating thing. We know how important it is. We know we can “draw near with confidence to the throne of grace…” But we forget its importance. We get lazy. We become perfunctory in our praying, and we forget that we are in the midst of war. And before long, we are indicted by the prophet Isaiah…

Yet you did not call upon me, O Jacob;
but you have been weary of me, O Israel!

Isaiah 43:22 (ESV)

What I need, and what I assume we all need…are regular reminders that prayer matters. Scripture and sermons are important to that end, but occasionally, a movie like War Room does wonders.

If you follow my advice and zip over to your local theater this week, realize what you will find in a Kendrick brothers flick – the production values are not quite the same as your typical Hollywood fare (though they are getting better and better), and to that end, one reviewer said this

“The movie equivalent of repeatedly being punched by a Bible…only divine intervention will stop you from walking out.” 

Hah!  Well…whatever. I don’t think the Kendrick brothers were aiming at him. They were aiming at me, and I hope…you too. And they hit me dead center. I was challenged and encouraged, and I’m sure that when it comes out on DVD, our church will pop some popcorn of our own and have a big showing for everyone.

And until then, as two of my favorite reviewers used to say, “We’ll see you at the movies.”


For Tuesday, September 21st: Hebrews 5


Posted by on September 21, 2015 in Uncategorized


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Reading Your Bible Everyday is Legalistic (and other lies you’ve been told)

Here is a dire warning to sober us up:

Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. Hebrews 2:1 (ESV)

So here is the rule of thumb – drift away from your daily time in the Bible or your weekly time in corporate gathering for worship and the Word, and you will drift away from God. You may not know exactly how, but drift away you shall. Much closer attention, not occasional or faltering attention, is required.

To this end I appreciated a recent blog post from Sarah Walton, Don’t Lose Spiritual Disciplines for Fear of Legalism, which includes an insightful quote from John Piper.

Click on the link, and enjoy her insights, but here is her differentiation between legalism and discipline:

  • “Legalism is being disciplined in order to live up to the law in our own strength, for the sake of achieving justification of sins. (We can resort to this way of living even after becoming genuine believers, trying to save ourselves even though we have been given the gift of salvation in Christ.)
  • “Godly discipline is being disciplined in the strength of the Holy Spirit, with the purpose of sanctification, fully aware that justification comes only through salvation in Christ. For this reason we can say, ‘Christ has bought me with a price and, therefore, I will discipline myself to run the race he has set before me, ‘laying aside every weight and sin that clings so closely”(Hebrews 12:1).

And while we’re on the subject, it seems appropriate that I direct your attention once again to Mez McConnell’s recent insights: Why Do So Many Walk Away From The Christian Faith?


For Friday, September 17th: Hebrews 3

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Posted by on September 17, 2015 in Uncategorized


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